JANUARY 28, 2011 9:05PM

Does Global Warming mean the fall of the US Empire?

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Figure 1

  Darkness slowly taking over the U.S.
(Picture showing an interesting cloud formation
near Houston taken on Jan. 23rd by the author's wife)

The east coast has been pounded by several snow storms as of late.  Some people may believe that these discredit the effects of global warming, but one hypothesis that has been put forward states that the increase in snow storm activities (and other similar events, such as the flooding episodes recently seen in Brazil and elsewhere in the world) is actually attributed to climate change (caused by human activity).

You see, the increase in observed average temperatures (recall that 2010 has the highest recorded yearly average temperature since about 1890) is associated with an augmentation in the level of moisture in the air. As discussed by several experts, such as Dr. Michio Kaku, this increase in moisture content not only leads to the creation of more storms, but also to stronger ones too. In fact, Professor Kaku warned us that we should expect storm activities to increase for the years to come. In his words: "get used to it."

What do these storms have to do with the fall of the U.S. Empire?

Well, I recently came upon a study published in the top academic journal Science that specifically examined the effects of climate change on the evolution of different civilizations. The Swiss researchers (paleoclimatologists to be exact), who collaborated with archaeologists on this study, examined more than 9,000 pieces of wood dating back 2,500 years. From these pieces of wood, they were able to extract information about temperature and precipitation levels on a year-to-year basis.

As discussed in a Discovery News article, "to get annual temperatures, they measured rings in high-altitude conifer trees, which grow faster in warmer summers and slower in colder years. To gauge precipitation, they looked at tree ring widths in lower-elevation oaks, which grow faster in years with higher levels of rainfall. Other techniques allowed them to figure out exactly which year each ring represented."

With this extracted information in hand, they found that the temperature levels observed over the last few years are in fact the highest values that occurred over the 2,500-year study period! No kidding. This is yet another study that supports the discussion points I made in my first post about global warming; in it, I demonstrated that the probability global warming IS NOT caused by human activity is equal to about 7.62E-24 (or 1 / 131,236,127,521,095,000,000,000). In other words, it's equal to a big 0. See the original post for more detailed information. This piece also describes original peer-reviewed publications on this topic. Let's not forget several well-received articles that my friend Kent Pitman also wrote on this subject (see here and here for example).

What's more interesting is that the researchers were able to link significant weather patterns (climate changes caused by 'natural forcing' like volcanic activities among others) and with major historical events, such as the Black Death in 1347 AD, the Thirty Years War, and the fall of the Roman Empire. The researchers believe that climate instability or variability between 250 and 550 AD may have helped in the demise of this mighty empire.

Obviously, the authors of the study are cautious about establishing a cause-and-effect relationship, but their study clearly helps in better understanding the effects the climate has on social evolution and the society in general.

With so many people in US who believe that global warming is a fraud, even when the climate around them is fast changing for the worse, how soon will U.S. Empire fall? Will global warming help topple the great giant at the hands of China? Will the latter country become the next Empire? This country is certainly on the right track for taking over the U.S. as the dominant world power, given its increasingly strong economic power and large military arsenal (see my post on this subject here). Perhaps global warming may accelerate this process.

Although China is a gigantic contributor of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, they are also more active than the US in trying to curb or reduce their noxious emissions. At the very least, they are trying to do something about it.

This does not bode well for the United States…

Update:

Scientists connect global warming to extreme rain (Feb. 16, 2011)

Extreme rainstorms and snowfalls have grown substantially stronger, two studies suggest, with scientists for the first time finding the telltale fingerprints of man-made global warming on downpours that often cause deadly flooding.

Two studies in Wednesday's issue of the journal Nature link heavy rains to increases in greenhouse gases more than ever before.

One group of researchers looked at the strongest rain and snow events of each year from 1951 to 1999 in the Northern Hemisphere and found that the more recent storms were 7 percent wetter. That may not sound like much, but it adds up to be a substantial increase, said the report from a team of researchers from Canada and Scotland.

The study didn't single out specific storms but examined worst-of-each-year events all over the Northern Hemisphere. While the study ended in 1999, the close of the decade when scientists say climate change kicked into a higher gear, the events examined were similar to more recent disasters: deluges that triggered last year's deadly floods in Pakistan and in Nashville, Tenn., and this winter's paralyzing blizzards in parts of the United States.

Jonathan Overpeck, a University of Arizona climate scientist, who didn't take part in either study, praised them as sensible and "particularly relevant given the array of extreme weather that we've seen this winter and stretching back over the last few years."

Most of the 10 outside climate experts who reviewed the papers for The Associated Press called the research sound and strong.

"Put the two papers together and we start to see an emerging pattern," said Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria, who wasn't part of either study. "We should continue to expect increased flooding associated with increased extreme precipitation because of increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas. And we have no one to blame but ourselves."

From an NPR article about the same two studies:

Meanwhile, a second study in Nature asks a much broader question: whether the worst downpours are getting even more extreme over time. The answer is yes.

"Extreme precipitation events today generally are a fair bit larger than they were in the 1950s and '60s," says Francis Zwiers of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium in British Columbia. He also attributes at least some of that increase to humans warming the planet.
 

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Hey, and while we're at it, why don't we throw in peak oil and bumping up against the upper limits of water, phosphates, and a bunch of other stuff as we cruise towards 9B people. Yeeeehah! See you at the rodeo!
ONL: Yep, we'll have to buckle our seatbelts given the very rough ride in the near future.
Interesting article, Kanuk

I remember reading the Pentagon has been planning for the consequences of GW for some time, which to normal people would signal a certain validity to the idea and reality. How it all works out in the end is speculation, but potential food shortages, etc, means a mobile and hostile group of people, somewhere. I hope not here.
I'm a bit leery of attributing the fall of empires to climate change. In Rome's case, a couple of centuries of mediocre, corrupt dictators helped that one on its way.

I'm no scientist but when virtually every reputable scientist in the world, plus every national science academy believes that global warming is happening and is in large part cause by mad-made carbon emissions, that persuades me.

As for the US's heyday? No country enjoys hegemony forever. It was a matter of time tioll China or India surpassed the US in wealth and influence.
Paul: Thank you! Yes, let’s hope it won’t affect us much here. However, with the anticipated increase in hurricane and major snow storm activities, this will have an important impact on the economy.

Abrawang: Yes, I agree with your assessment. Climate change is not the only factor that contributed to its fall. Did it help? This is a difficult question to answer. With this study, one can only add a piece to the puzzle.
exactly. someone proposed the title Global Weirding instead of Global Warming. but the latter has stuck hard as a sound bite & most of the public cannot get past it. the warming will have multiple effects. stronger hurricanes is also a possibility. which makes one wonder about new orleans.
vzn: Even with the improvements made in New Orleans, they are far from being out of the woods. 'Weird' may be an appropriate word to describe what's going on. Some call it variability.
'As discussed by several experts, such as Dr. Michio Kaku, this increase in moisture content not only leads to the creation of more storms, but also to stronger ones too.'

...right, except for the fact that there is no trend of increasing storm frequency or intensity even given the large amount of warming we've witnessed (http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v3/n3/pdf/ngeo779.pdf). We are also not likely to see such a trend for many decades into the future in the case of hurricanes, the strongest storms we presently face (http://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/21st-century-projections-of-intense-hurricanes).

That research team also points out,

'The relationship between temperature and storm intensity is not as simple as "warmer oceans => stronger storms" since there are a variety of mechanisms that are capable of limiting the numbers of very intense storms. An example is increases in wind shears which can prevent strengthening that might otherwise occur under favorable conditions for storm development.'

So the 'experts' don't seem to agree on this facet of the situation.

The large snow storms we're seeing this winter are larger due fluctuations in the westerlies and abnormal patterns overwhelming a La Nina season, not excess heat from changes in radiative transfer due to greenhouse gases (http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/the-westerlies-explain-the-recent-extreme-winter-weather-not-global-warming/ or http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2011/01/ridgmageddon.html).

More to the point of this post, are the Roman empire and modern-day US really comparable?

To get to the answer to that question, we could determine hat was the greatest technological advancements of the Roman empire? I say sewage and viaducts, or generally hydrology.

How do those technologies compare to our modern technologies?

Paltry by any standard.

We live in a time in which we live longer and better lives almost solely based on technological advancements beyond the imagination of the most brilliant Roman thinkers like Archimedes. To believe that somehow we are at the same risk as these ancient civilizations to variations in global climatic factors is pretty stupid to me. I mean, you have heard of air conditioning, have you not?

Adaptation is going to be an important factor in any scenario concerning global, regional and local climate. Comparisons to the lives of people 2000 years ago likely will not, although I can see how it makes for good propaganda.
My feeling is that China is capable of more than it is doing. From what I've read (hearsay, I know, but the best I can offer off the cuff just now), the sentiment in both China and India is that the US got a time of indulgence and they want theirs, too, before they do any belt tightening. If that's the case, it's a dangerous attitude both because they're capable of much more damage if they indulge 20th-century-US-like indulgence and because they are probably waiting for the US to take the lead in showing these things matter.

So, yes, China is going after the green market in business, but the real issue will not be what can anyone do to succeed, but what sacrifices will people be called upon to do. I'm not sure that business success, all on its own, will be enough because the poor will take the hand-me-downs and the fossil fuel use will still happen. Personally, I even fear wood burning (because of the trees lost, etc.) if fossil fuels get hard to obtain.

Greater coordination, planning, etc. is needed and I just don't see anything of the appropriate scale happening.
Glad to have you back Firestorm.

You write:

“...right, except for the fact that there is no trend of increasing storm frequency or intensity even given the large amount of warming we've witnessed (http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v3/n3/pdf/ngeo779.pdf). We are also not likely to see such a trend for many decades into the future in the case of hurricanes, the strongest storms we presently face (http://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/21st-century-projections-of-intense-hurricanes).”

After reading these two documents, I find it interesting that the authors of the first one claim that no trend exists based on one study despite the previous work done on this topic (most, but not all, are referred in their own document):

Emanuel K (2005) Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years. Nature, 436, 686–688.

Trenberth K (2005) Uncertainty in hurricanes and global warming. Science, 308, 1753–1754.

Webster PJ, Holland GJ, Curry JA, Chang HR (2005) Changes in tropical cyclone number, duration, and intensity in a warming environment. Science, 309, 1844–1846. (this one is included)

Vecchi GA, Soden BJ (2007) Effect of remote sea surface temperature change on tropical cyclones potential intensity. Nature 450:1066–1070

Emanuel K (2007) Environmental factors affecting tropical cyclone power dissipation. Journal of Climate, 20, 5497–5509.

Emanuel KA, Sundararajan R, Williams J (2008) Hurricanes and global warming: results from downscaling IPCC AR3 simulations. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 89:347–367

Elsner JB, Kossin JP, Jagger TH (2008) The increasing intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones. Nature 455:92–95

Knutson TR, Tuleya RE (2008) Tropical cyclones and climate change: revisiting recent studies at GFDL. In: Dias H, Murnane R (eds) Climate extremes and society. Columbia University Press,
New York

Then, they note that the number of storms did not increase, with the exception of those that occurred in the Atlantic. Either it is or it is not. Interestingly, subsequent studies to the one you showed me seem to portray a different picture:

Zhao, Ming, Isaac M. Held, 2010: An Analysis of the Effect of Global Warming on the Intensity of Atlantic Hurricanes Using a GCM with Statistical Refinement. J. Climate, 23, 6382–6393.

Bender et al. (2010) Modeled Impact of Anthropogenic Warming on the Frequency of Intense Atlantic Hurricanes. Science, Vol. 327, no. 5964 pp. 454-458.

Manton, M.J. (2010) Trends in climate extremes affecting human settlements. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Volume 2, Issue 3, 2010, pp. 151-155.

Li, W.B., Du, Q.B., Chen, S.M. (2010) Climatological Relationships Among the Tropical Cyclone Frequency, Duration, Intensity and Activity Regions over the Western Pacific. Chinese Science Bulletin, Vol. 55, No. 33, pp. 3818-3824.

To claim that no trend exists is in my opinion pushing it. What’s even more intriguing is that the authors needed to add the following caveat:

“A substantial human influence on future tropical cyclone activity cannot be ruled out, however, and could arise from several mechanisms (including oceanic warming, sea-level rise and circulation changes).”

As for the second article, someone who understands statistics can tell you that because a phenomenon cannot be detected does not mean that it does not exist; this applies with the first paper above. A good paper discussing this issue can be found here:

Hauer, E. (2004) The harm done by tests of significance. Accident Analysis & Prevention, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp. 495-500.

You wrote:

“The large snow storms we're seeing this winter are larger due fluctuations in the westerlies and abnormal patterns overwhelming a La Nina season, not excess heat from changes in radiative transfer due to greenhouse gases (http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/the-westerlies-explain-the-recent-extreme-winter-weather-not-global-warming/ or http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2011/01/ridgmageddon.html).”

Interestingly, the article I linked above also discussed this issue (about La Nina). The main question: can the effect of climate change be ruled out with certainty (see caveat above; most of the papers on GW has such caution)? Can the effect be compounded with those of La Nina? Both articles can’t even rule it out. The author of the second blog post seems to be clueless about what’s going on. In his words: “my profession really can't explain it”

You wrote:

“We live in a time in which we live longer and better lives almost solely based on technological advancements beyond the imagination of the most brilliant Roman thinkers like Archimedes. To believe that somehow we are at the same risk as these ancient civilizations to variations in global climatic factors is pretty stupid to me. I mean, you have heard of air conditioning, have you not?”

Whatever technological advancements the Roman or people in the 21st Century have performed is irrelevant. During your free time, you might want to read documents, such as those described below:

MATOSSIAN, M. K. (1989) Poisons of the past: molds, epidemics, and history. Yale University Press, New Haven & London. In this book, the author discusses climate as a precondition to the growth of molds and release of mycotoxins which affected patterns in history.

Karvonen, A., Rintamäki, P., Jokela, J., Valtonen, E.T. (2010) Increasing water temperature and disease risks in aquatic systems: Climate change increases the risk of some, but not all, diseases. International Journal for Parasitology, Vol. 40, Issue 13, pp. 1483-1488.

The availability of air conditioned or heating systems is also irrelevant here. I’m wondering if the people in Brazil who had their dwelling swept away (some which with people in it) would fall with this kind of argument.
Kent: Thanks for providing additional information. I agree that China probably can do more and I'm sure part of their strategy is to make the US look bad by showing how green they have become.
Kanuk,

I'm going to assume that the 'firestorm' comment is referred to me, though I'm sure what context you have in mind.

Your prolific citation list is rather impressive, although the first few aren't really research articles. They are perspectives pieces, supplying a slightly different view on the situation. If those are on the table, I know a few direct responses to those pieces still awaiting rebuttals in the literature.

I also don't understand the conclusion you make. If the hypothesis is that greenhouse gas forced global warming causes more frequency and more intense storm, the data clearer show that such a hypothesis should be rejected for the moment.

From the WMO Nature Geoscience paper,

'Landfalling tropical storm and hurricane activity in the US shows no long-term increase'

and

'The short time period of the data does not allow any definitive statements regarding separation of anthropogenic changes from natural decadal variability or the existence of longer-term trends and possible links to greenhouse warming. Furthermore, intensity changes may result from a systematic change in storm duration, which is another route by which the storm environment can affect intensity that has not been studied extensively.'

Such a signal may become clearer in the future, but its presence will necessitate another several decades of averaging.

In that case, what type of signal will we see in the present? One more storm of 10% more intensity than the historical trend per year? Per decade? How often will those storms affect populated areas?

The narrative proposed in your post above not only doesn't answer any of these questions, but also paints the picture that the effects of such a signal will be meaningful in the context of the prosperity of the US or to the everyday lives of Americans. To hold another's feet to the fire in the context of the historical storm/hurricane trends based on a confused and disparate literature while painting such a picture does not lead one to take your opinions very seriously. The application of such standards should be even across all perspectives, especially when dealing with science.

Furthermore, if the idea was to bring up the fate of the peoples of other nations in the context of the 'fall of the US empire' a little notice would be nice. Rather than changing subjects mid-argument, you could simply focus on supporting the original claims you made and my specific responses to them.

Given you've passed the opportunity to do so thus far, I'm going to assume that your rebuttal is forthcoming. I'm looking forward to it.
Notwithstanding the two IP addresses you have been using, the fact that you keep clinging like your life depends on it on one or two studies that suit your beliefs, while dismissing the majority of the research conducted on a given topic, it’s easy to know who you are. Furthermore, another typical pattern that has emerged is when you keep citing studies that contradict themselves for supporting the points you’re trying to make (as shown above and in previous comments).

Before writing comments, I suggest that you perform a thorough and objective review of the topic you want to discuss; I believe I already raised this issue in the past. That would be very helpful, both here at OS and probably with your actual research activities. With regards to the severity and frequency of storm events, you might want to start with the latest studies published in Nature discussed above (which again contradict your view points) and chronologically go back in time and carefully read the documents located in the reference list.

I could again do a point-by-point rebuttal, but I’m not interested. You might want to nonetheless read papers or research work on “low probability, high impact events.” This may help you understand the actual risk of observing severe storms in the near the future. You’ll see that they don’t discuss events by 10% increases.
Firestorm/the demon, you might want to read the following article titled “Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?” Based on your arguments above (about clinging on a single paper to make your case), I refer you to this part of the paper:

The third characteristic is selectivity, drawing on isolated papers that challenge the dominant consensus or highlighting the flaws in the weakest papers among those that support it as a means of discrediting the entire field. An example of the former is the much-cited Lancet paper describing intestinal abnormalities in 12 children with autism, which merely suggested a possible link with immunization against measles, mumps and rubella.19 This has been used extensively by campaigners against immunization, even though 10 of the paper's 13 authors subsequently retracted the suggestion of an association.20 Fortunately, the work of the Cochrane Collaboration in promoting systematic reviews has made selective citation easier to detect.

Another is a paper published by the British Medical Journal in 2003,21 later shown to suffer from major flaws, including a failure to report competing interests,22 that concluded that exposure to tobacco smoke does not increase the risk of lung cancer and heart disease. This paper has been cited extensively by those who deny that passive smoking has any health effects, with the company Japan Tobacco International still quoting it as justification for rejecting ‘the claim that ETS is a cause of lung cancer, heart disease and chronic pulmonary diseases in non-smokers’ as late as the end of 2008.23

Denialists are usually not deterred by the extreme isolation of their theories, but rather see it as the indication of their intellectual courage against the dominant orthodoxy and the accompanying political correctness, often comparing themselves to Galileo.


I believe you may already be aware of this news item:

Critics' review unexpectedly supports scientific consensus on global warming
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